After patiently waiting over a week for the 2009 NBA Finals to finally commence, the Los Angeles Lakers crushed the Orlando Magic at Staples Center, 100-75. Both teams came out rather tentative to start the contest, missing easy shots and hesitating to attack on offense. Andrew Bynum, (9 points, 9 rebounds, 1 blocked shot), started well, scoring on a dunk and a 12-footer to begin the game. He went on to score 8 points in the quarter before picking up his second foul of the period with 3:14 left in the first. Derek Fisher, (9 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist), also got untracked as he got uncontested looks from the perimeter. His defense on Rafer Alston, (6 points on 2-9, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), was particularly effective as he forced the speedy point guard out of the lane and made him settle for rushed, outside shots. Kobe Bryant, (40 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots), dominated the Magic, scoring at will and punishing both Courtney Lee, (7 points on 3-10, 1 rebound, 1 steal), and Mickael Pietrus, (14 points on 5-13, 5 rebounds), in the process. Orlando shot a horrible 29.9% for the game.
The first quarter closed with Orlando holding onto a slim, 24-22 lead, thanks in part to a somewhat rusty offensive attack by the Lakers. But they put all doubt aside in the second period, outscoring the Magic, 31-19 to take a ten point halftime lead. Kobe carried the squad in the period as he went into Mamba-mode, slicing and dicing the Magic’s defense. Kobe poured in 12 points in the period and along with Lamar Odom, (11 points, 14 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot), exploited the lax Magic defense time after time. Dwight Howard, (12 points on 1-6, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots), never got untracked as the Lakers double- and triple-teamed him each time he managed to get the ball in the post. Pau Gasol, (16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots), played Howard well, moving his feet and not allowing Superman to plant himself in the lane. Luke Walton, (9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal), had an effective quarter as well, posting up the smaller Magic defenders deep in the paint. Pietrus hit a three pointer to draw the Magic to within 43-39 with 3:09 left in the half, but the Lakers responded with a 10-4 run, capped off by a Kobe driving layup high off the glass with :04 seconds remaining to give them a 53-43 cushion. Jameer Nelson, (6 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds), made his long awaited debut and provided a brief spark in the 2nd quarter after spending the past 4 months on the disabled list following shoulder surgery. But even his presence couldn’t lift the Magic out of their worst shooting performance of the playoffs.
The Lakers erased any doubts that may have lingered from the earlier rounds when they were accused of not possessing a killer instinct. They immediately pounced on the Magic and quickly extended the lead to 68-50 as Kobe and Gasol accounted for 13 of 15 of the Lakers points to that juncture. The Magic called time-out to regroup, but all coach Stan Van Gundy could do was to implore his team to fight on. Tonight they had no answers to stop the Lakers, and more singularly, to slow down Kobe Bryant. Kobe scored 18 points in the period and the game quickly vanished from sight for the Magic. He scored on an assortment of vintage Kobe shots, post-up moves into the paint, pull-up jumpers into the teeth of the defense, and on one amazing possession, froze Pietrus with a cross-over, stepped through the double-team, and double pumped a bank shot hard off the backboard while drawing the foul. The chants of “MVP” soon rained down as Kobe stepped to the line and calmly dropped the “and one.” The Magic never recovered from the Lakers onslaught. But for however dominant the Lakers appeared on offense, it was their defense that won the game for them. They continually pushed the Magic out of their comfort zone behind the arc, and forced them to make the extra pass. The Lakers scrambled and switched often, never allowing the Magic a chance to catch their breath and make a run. After starting off 3-5 in the first quarter, Hedo Turkoglu, (13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot), never hit a basket again, missing all 7 of his shot attempts the rest of the way. Trevor Ariza, (3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 blocked shot), hounded Turkoglu off of his sweet spot and forced him to the baseline, where he was ineffective and coughed up 4 turnovers. The Lakers finished the 3rd quarter with a commanding 82-58 lead and the Magic heading to their bench, dazed and wobbly.
The Magic never threatened in the 4th quarter, although they tried to salvage their poor shooting night. Van Gundy inserted his bench players in an effort to jump start his squad, but that never manifested as the Lakers methodically erased any hope by starting the period with a 7-4 run to push the lead to 89-62 with 8:26 left in the game. The Lakers went scoreless for a stretch of 4:13, but the Magic could only manage to chip off 3 points in that same span of time. Kobe reentered the game and converted on a pair of free throws, then hit a 10-footer for his 40th point of the night to give them a 97-73 lead with just under two minutes to play. Orlando called time out and both teams cleared their benches as the Magic raised the white flag in Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals. The Lakers and Magic face off again in Game 2 on Sunday night, then head to Orlando for the next three games. Rashard Lewis, (8 points on 2-10, 5 rebounds), Turkoglu and Alston failed to provide the Magic with the same punch that they delivered against Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Orlando was out-rebounded, 55-41, and dished off for only 10 assists, although they managed to convert 21-29 free throws for 72.4%. The Lakers shot 46.1% from the field, converted 15-18 free throws for 83.3%, committed only 8 turnovers, and limited the Magic to 8-23 from outside the arc.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
This is it folks. These 2009 NBA Finals brings us full circle from a disappointing experience a year ago. Enjoy it while it lasts, because as we all know, these trips can prove to be elusive and infrequent. But hey, wait a minute you might say… “We’re the Lakers and we’re supposed to be here every year.” OK, so we’re a little spoiled and have been to the NBA Finals six times now in the new millennium. (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009) If we had taken care of business in 2004 against the Detroit Pistons, we might be talking Team of the Decade all over again. But even with the Hall-of-Fame line-up consisting of Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Devean George(!?!), it just wasn’t meant to be and the team soon imploded before Mitch Kupchak could even conclude his exit interviews. Fast forward to today and the emotions that we’ve endured, including the pain, (Shaq leaving), the anger, (Kobe demanding a trade), the make-up period, (Andrew Bynum before last season’s ending knee injury), the honeymoon, (Pau Gasol coming to the Lakers), and then the disappointment, (losing to Boston), and this has the makings of a feature length mockumentary.
Even this season has had its share of drama, starting with the off-season elation, (Kobe bringing home the gold), the malaise, (Bynum’s slow return), the expectations, (the Bench Mob), playing as the favorite, (winning consistently but not impressively), the feeling of inadequacy, (Lamar, Fisher, Farmar, Bynum, Gasol), the outrage, (losing to the Yao-less Houston Rockets), the redemption, (closing out Denver), to where we stand now, on the verge of securing title #15. Kobe had his warrior face on tonight. ABC announcer and brother of Stan, Jeff Van Gundy, summed it up best, commenting on Kobe’s teeth baring expressions, “Wow! He looks mean.” The Lakers punished Orlando tonight and perhaps some of the credit can be accounted to opening night jitters for the Magic. But the Lakers team defense was spectacular even while the offense relied mostly on Kobe’s spectacular play. Expect the Magic to come out much better prepared for Game 2 on Sunday. And be prepared for them to even start making their three point attempts. But if we can get the same type of defensive energy that was displayed tonight, the Magic look to be in a 2-0 hole before they embark on their long trip home, back to the Magic Kingdom.